This is a strange BotW post for me to write – as there were two other books that nearly beat The Murder Quadrille last week, and nothing that I liked as much as them this week. But I have a rule about not carrying over picks that weren’t used in a previous week. So Shawn Reilly Simmons’s Murder on the Half Shell gets the nod – but I enjoyed it more this paragraph implies. Trust me, keep reading!
Murder on the Half Shell is the second book in The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries. The plot: Penelope Sutherland runs a catering company that works on film sets, she’s on an island in Florida catering a movie – but it’s not all plain sailing. The director is difficult, the leading lady has a seafood allergy and it is hot, really hot. Then two of the waitresses she’s been using go missing after a crew party and Penelope’s former culinary school instructor turned celebrity chef is the prime suspect. But she’s sure he didn’t do it and starts to look into it herself.
Food-related cozies are such a massive trend at the moment. There’s a lot of cupcakes, bakers and coffee shops and so a catering company is a nice variant. One of the problems I often have with cozy series is that there’s a lot of murder going on in a very small area. I’m not sure how long a real cake shop/coffee shop/bakery would last if bodies kept turning up outside them and that does sometimes affect how I feel about a series as it goes on – depending obviously on how the author handles it. But the location catering idea means that there’s potential for the series to move around a bit. This of course makes it a little harder to maintain a large gang of supporting characters, but it does stop the Cabot Cove effect. The flipside is that with location moving around does it does mean that the murders might start to seem to be following the lead character around – the Jessica Fletcher effect. But there are ways and means of dealing with all of these issues – and we’ll see how Red Carpet Catering copes if the series continues.
Penelope is one of the more appealing heroines I’ve recently read in the genre too. She’s not too stupid to live (or at least not often), she’s not too obviously encroaching on police territory in a way that would get her arrested and she still manages to spend enough time at her business (or have staff manning it) that you can see that she’d stay solvent. I guess I’m trying to say that Murder on the Half Shell has a good premise, lead character and is solidly executed. I did think that some of the set-up and diversionary tactics were a little heavy-handed at times – the “obvious suspect” evidence particularly – but it wasn’t enough to annoy me. It’s not as humourous as my favourite books in the genre, but again, that’s not really a problem if the mystery is interesting – and this one is.
Murder on the Half Shell was a perfectly nice way to spend a couple of train journeys – my copy came from NetGalley and I liked it enough to go back and get the first book in the series from there too. If you fancy dipping your toe in the world of cozy crime on location, you can pick it up on Kindle (for £1.99 at time of writing).
Happy crime reading!